Covid-19: Vulnerable teens may "never return to education"

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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As many as 123,000 vulnerable teenagers risk “falling through gaps” in the school and social care system, with many in danger of “never returning to full-time education”.


The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned that one in 25 vulnerable students, aged 13 to 17, could fall off the radar as England emerges from lockdown.

She is particularly concerned about those students due to finish year 11 this summer.

An analysis published on Tuesday (July 7) details a catalogue of risk factors including persistent absence from school, exclusions, alternative provision, dropping out of the school system in year 11, or going missing from care.

The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, says that these one in 25 teenagers were already at-risk before lockdown and fears that unless they are “re-engaged in society” they could face “educational failure and unemployment, or crime or exploitation”.

She warns that these teenagers “could be joined by many more who struggle to adapt to a return to ‘normal’ after six months out of school”.

Her analysis details the number of teenagers aged 13 to 17 in England, for each local authority, who were already falling through gaps in education and social care provision before Covid-19.

While the national rate stands at around four per cent (or one in 25), in some areas, such as Liverpool, Medway and Blackpool, it is at more than seven per cent.

The analysis calls on councils to work with schools and police to focus resources on these teenagers. This must involve government, schools, local authorities, police forces and safeguarding partnerships working together on a plan to “identify, track, support and ultimately re-engage these children”.

Other proposals in the analysis include summer schemes – such as sports clubs, play schemes, holiday clubs and youth clubs. She says the government should allow schools to support these schemes using some of the additional £650 million “catch-up” funding unveiled recently by education secretary Gavin Williamson.

The warnings are based on data from 2017/18 of the children known to social care services. It shows that 480,000 children aged 13 to 17 had some kind of additional need, such as SEND, Child in Need (CIN) referral, a fixed or permanent exclusion, high levels of school absence, or dropping out of school in year 11.

Around 100,000 of these teenagers were receiving high-cost statutory support such as being in care, being on a Child Protection Plan, having an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or being enrolled at a pupil referral unit.

Ms Longfield is “particularly concerned” about a subset of these children who risk being removed from the systems intended to support them – it is these children who are in danger of “falling through the gaps”. This list includes children who:

  • Have multiple CIN referrals but do not end up on a CIN plan.
  • Have SEND and also multiple exclusions from school.
  • Have a permanent exclusion but do not enter a PRU.
  • Are in care and living in an unregulated placement or are in care and have multiple placement changes.
  • Have a permanent exclusion or have high levels of unauthorised absence.
  • Drop out of the school system in year 11.
  • Miss at least an entire term of school in the previous two years.
  • Are in care but go missing from their placement multiple times.

In 2017/18, around 81,000 teenagers in England met at least one of these criteria; 13,000 met two or more. In her analysis, Ms Longfield includes another 42,000 teenagers classified as NEET making her total of 123,000 at-risk teenagers.

She said: “Even before the lockdown, one in 25 teenagers in England were falling through gaps in the school or social services systems. This puts them at increased risk of unemployment or of exploitation by gangs and organised criminals. This summer I am particularly worried that teenagers who have finished year 11, who have seen their Apprenticeship collapse, or have simply lost their way through lockdown, will simply fall off the radar. Teenagers in colleges have so far been left out of catch-up funding.

“Many of these children, and I fear many thousands of other vulnerable teenagers, have had very little structure to their lives over the last six months. School was often a stretch for them, and I am concerned we are never going to get some of them back into education. If we do not act now, this could result in a lost generation of teens – dropping out of school, going under the radar, getting into trouble, and at risk of being groomed by gangs and criminals.

“We need to identify these children quickly and do whatever it takes over the summer to stabilise their lives and get them prepared for the structure of school again. We must not look back in five years at a generation of vulnerable teenagers who fell out of society and ended up drifting into crime and unemployment. They need extra help now as we emerge from lockdown.”

Commenting on the analysis, Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Children’s social care referrals have fallen by more than half in some areas, from an average of almost 1,800 per day, which raises concerns that not all young people are getting the support they need.

“Councils are working with their partners and communities to try to identify children who may be at risk. As this report reinforces, it is vital that councils have the funding they need to support children, young people and families as part of the national recovery. The impact of the pandemic on some children will be far-reaching, and it will be essential that the right services are there to support them.”


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This actually answered my drawback, thank you!
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